Two nominees for the Tennessee Valley Authority are expected to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate today, but only after the pair made an unusual commitment Monday not to vote or involve themselves with any matter involving developer Franklin L. Haney and his effort to finance TVA's unfinished Bellefonte Nuclear Plant.
Virginia Lodge, a former commissioner for Tennessee's Department of Human Services, and Ronald Walter, a Memphis television executive, are both Democrats nominated by the White House to fill two vacant seats on TVA's 9-member governing board. Prior to the formal nomination announcement from the White House in late August, both Lodge and Walter acknowledge they talked with Haney or his representatives, who are urging TVA to finish Bellefonte through a private funding plan.
Haney, a real estate developer who ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Congress in 1966 and for governor in Tennessee in 1974, was one of the top donors to the 2012 re-election of President Obama and is a personal friend of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. In the past four years, Haney also has spent nearly $1.5 million on lobbyists, including former Alabama Congressman Bud Cramer who is pushing Haney's plan to privately finance the Bellefonte nuclear plant.
TVA has delayed any decision on the future of the twin-reactor Bellefonte plant in Hollywwood, Ala., even though Haney continues to urge the agency to finish the nuclear facility using a private financing scheme he claims would save TVA money and keep the utility under its debt ceiling.
Some complain that Haney is trying to influence the board makeup at TVA - or at least try to individually persuade a majority of its members - to go along with his plan to finish Bellefonte. Last year, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy questioned whether Haney was using his political connections to try to get TVA to finish Bellefonte using his financing plan.
To remove such questions, Lodge and Walter sent letters to TVA Monday saying they "will not participate personally and substantially in any particular matter in which Mr. Haney or any person on his behalf is a party" or in any matters where Haney "would have a direct or indirect financial interest."
In similar letters, the two nominees said they are taking the unprecedented step to recuse themselves in advance on a potential major future decision at TVA "to avoid any actual or apparent conflict of interest."
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.., who had raised questions about allegations that Haney appeared to be trying to influence board appointments or views on Bellefonte, said the letters helped convince him to vote to confirm Lodge and Walter when the Senate votes on their confirmation, perhaps as soon as today.
"While I respect the two nominees currently being considered, I have grown increasingly concerned by the nomination process and the potential influence - or perception of influence - that an outside investor who has proposed a multi-billion dollar project to TVA has had on this process," Corker said in a statement read into the Congressional record on Monday. "I was particularly disappointed the Majority Leader announced he was moving forward with votes despite being aware of these issues - making it the first time TVA nominations have been confirmed by a roll call vote since 1987."
Lodge and Walter, if confirmed, will replace outgoing TVA directors Bill Sansom and Barbara Haskew, both of whom opposed immediate completion of Bellefonte as proposed by Haney.
Corker said the letters from Lodge and Walter agreeing to recuse themselves on any Haney-related business "helps ensure that there is no appearance of a lack of impartiality."
Corker , U.S Sen. Lamar Alexander and U.S. Rep. John Duncan, all Tennessee Republicans, conducted a public hearing a year ago in Knoxville where representatives for Haney, including former TVA Chairman Dennis Bottorff, made their pitch to the TVA board to use an $11 billion outside financing plan from Haney to complete both of the unfinished reactors at Bellefonte. The members of congress did not take any position in what they said should be a TVA decision debated in public.
The TVA staff ultimately concluded that TVA didn't need the power from Bellefonte any time soon "so the proposal (from Haney) is not operative," TVA CEO Bill Johnson said at the time.
But Haney said after the TVA decision that he would continue to push to convince TVA to finish Bellefonte, which he said would provide cleaner and cheaper power needed in the South.
"I never give up on anything if I believe it in and eventually I think that right will win," Haney told the Times Free Press a year ago.
Contact Dave Flessner at email@example.com or at 757-6340.